NASCAR To Celebrate Modified Champs Past and Present at Banquet
16 Different Champs Will Attend Festivities
When Donny Lia steps to the podium Friday to accept the trophy as the 2007 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, he will extend a lineage of championship drivers that dates back not only to the beginning of the Whelen Modified Tour in 1985 but even further back, to the earlier days of NASCAR.
As NASCAR’s oldest division, the Modified division have always held a special place in NASCAR history. In 2008, both NASCAR and the Modifieds will celebrate their 60th year of racing. And Friday, as Lia is crowned the newest champion, he will be surrounded by some of the sport’s greatest drivers.
Mike Stefanik (L), Rick Fuller (C) and Jeff Fuller (R) will all be on hand as previous champions at the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour banquet. (Stafford Motor Speedway Photo)
Sixteen NASCAR Modified champions, representing 34 championships, have confirmed their attendance at the 2007 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour awards banquet Friday at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Conn.
Among those attending will be 1952 NASCAR Modified Division champion Frankie Schneider who, at 81, is the oldest living Modified champion. The New Jersey driver won hundreds of races in a career that spanned more than five decades. He is just two months older than Ernie Gahan. Gahan won the 1966 NASCAR Modified championship in a 1936 Chevrolet coupe.
Other champions from the pre-Tour era scheduled to attend are former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Bobby Allison, Jack Choquette, Bugs Stevens and Jerry Cook. Eighteen years before he won the Cup Series title, Allison captured the second of his back-to-back NASCAR Modified championships (1964-65). Choquette won the 1954 Modified Division championship and his grandson Jeff is now a championship ASA Late Model driver. After finishing second to Gahan in 1966, Stevens won three straight NASCAR championships from 1967-‘69. And Cook, now a Competition Administrator for NASCAR, won six Modified Division championships (1971-‘72, 1974-’77).
The NASCAR Whelen Modified era, which began with the formation of the Tour in 1985, will be well- represented as well with Mike McLaughlin, Mike Stefanik, Jamie Tomaino, Jeff Fuller, Rick Fuller, Wayne Anderson, Tony Hirschman Jr., Jerry Marquis, Todd Szegedy and Lia.
Stefanik’s nine NASCAR championships – including seven on the Whelen Modified Tour – ties him with the late Richie Evans, another Modified great, for the record for the most NASCAR titles. Hirschman has won five. The Fuller brothers won back-to-back years (Jeff in 1992 and Rick in 1993). McLaughlin (1988) won the first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour on a superspeedway with his victory at New Hampshire in 1990.
Tomaino (1990) has made more starts than any other driver in Modified Tour history, while Marquis followed up a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series regional title driving an SK Modified at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway in 1999 with a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in 2000. Anderson teamed with veteran car owner Len Boehler to capture the 1994 championship. And Szegedy was the youngest driver to win the Whelen Modified Tour title with his 2003 championship.
As the 2007 champion, Lia will receive a special championship trophy introduced this year by NASCAR and series sponsor Whelen Engineering. The trophy features the names of all the NASCAR Modified champions dating back to 1948. With Friday’s gathering of champions, NASCAR is set to kick off a year-long celebration of the 60 years of Modified racing for 2008.